Third and Long
Leicester's City's third consecutive season in the Championship ended on a high note last weekend with a 2-1 victory away at Leeds, as it did last season with a resounding home win over Ipswich. However, even the most ardent fan will say that the club fell well short of what was expected, and, more importantly, what it was capable of achieving, both this year and last. Leicester finished ninth in the league during another season in which players, fans, and the media considered them to be Premier League-bound, along with West Ham United (whose points total would have been enough to secure automatic promotion during four of the last five Championship campaigns). The homecoming of Nigel Pearson was a bold move by the owners, and one that gave supporters reason to believe that their season could be saved. But inconsistency plagued the Foxes all season, resulting in back-to-back league wins only twice, which inevitably left them falling well-short of the play-offs.
A number of sobering home performances defined Leicester's season: home defeats to Barnsley and Bristol City (who eventually finished in the bottom six of the Championship), a 3-0 home loss to Millwall, and arguably the worst of all, an uninspiring and unenthusiastic goalless draw with Burnley, when the Foxes were mathematically still in contention of reaching the play-offs. The long and short of it is that many players did not regularly perform to the level which they were capable of this season, and that, as a club, Leicester were not good enough, and when they were, they were not consistent enough.
So, how does Nigel Pearson establish Leicester as a genuine promotion contender as he did two seasons ago? The owners showed faith in Pearson by hiring him despite being contracted to Hull City at the time (who eventually finished two points above Leicester this season). Another managerial change would indicate that his hiring (and firing) was a knee-jerk reaction. It is important that the club maintains a strong core - one that goes further than just the players. Pearson must be given the summer, with the backing of the club, to do what he can to give Leicester the best possible chance of becoming a real threat in the Championship. This does not necessarily mean spending vast amounts of money - although there are likely to be comings and goings at the King Power Stadium before August. But there are already some incredibly talented players at the club, and a very promising set of youngsters (Ben Marshall, Jeff Schlupp, Liam Moore and Tom Hopper, to name a few) - all worthy of playing in blue and white next season. Ultimately, every supporter will have their own view, but very rarely has a club been able to buy their way into the Premier League.
It is unlikely that Nigel Pearson will make drastic changes ahead of the new season in terms of showing some players the door, but he will not be afraid to do so if that is what he believes will benefit the club. Reading are a fine example: Brian McDermott sold two of Reading's best players last summer (Shane Long and Matt Mills) before eventually going on to win the Championship and establishing them as the best team in the division. The Foxes were outplayed and outclassed by the Royals on both meetings last year, despite Leicester having, on paper, the stronger side. A good manager and a stable, consistent team are the foundations on which to build a promotion challenge to the Premier League.
So can Nigel Pearson restore that sense of cohesion and unity which seems to have become lost in the last couple of seasons? Judging on his record of taking Leicester to the brink of the Premier League in 2010 with roughly the same League One side he inherited (and subsequently built upon), he certainly has the ability to. Whether Foxes fans are having this discussion a year from now will indicate his success.